21 January 2021: It’s a New Year

I was born in 1945, which means that by some measurements I am old.  As is true of most of us, as we age we learn.  And what we learn should change our outlook and our behavior.  In my case, one of the things that I’ve learned is that I’ve had too many interests in my life…I’ve not focused enough on the primary things.  During 2020 I slowly came to the realization that I should focus on just three things: 1) Myself (happiness and health), 2) My Wife (I need to be as supportive and as loving as I’m capable), and 3) Automata.  I’ve spent time and energy in 2020 disposing of and or ending relationships or activities that don’t support one of those three primary focal points.  As I enter 2021 and the remainder of my life I’m going to stay focused on just those three things.  By doing so I believe that my quality of life will improve and that my impact on the planet (for what it is worth) will be more positive.

My two automata categories of focus have been Product Spinners and Jim’s Gym automatons.  I’m adding one more category…Earth Awareness.  I admit that I don’t have even one automaton in mind yet for the Earth Awareness category…but I also believe that automata can increase awareness of how we should be inhabiting this planet.  I think that it is vitally important that we properly inhabit this planet…this space ship.  We need to learn how to do it.

In my automata world, Auger Lift #1 sits on my workbench completely disassembled as I carefully apply coats of paint to each component.

The Auger Lift #1 Electrics Panel has just been painted and reassembled. January 20, 2001.


3 January 2021: Happy New Year

2020 was a long year. A year like 2020, however, forces the realization that most of the time we’ve got it pretty darn good.

I suspect that 2021 will be a better year…however the price paid will be spread over many of the coming years.  

I’ve cut my activities down to just “myself, my wife, and my art”.  This simplification allows me to focus more on the things that are important to me.  In hindsight, I’ve had too many interests over the years.  I should have focused years ago.

In the studio, the Auger Lift is coming along nicely.  the biped has been created, the elliptical pedaling mechanism is operating, the auger lift is lifting marbles.  The last thing, the actual marble run itself, is being created at this time.  I suspect that by Thursday or Friday I’ll have the machine circulating marbles.  After that…30 or 40 hours of burn-in run time…then disassembly for paint.  This automata should be completed by the end of February.

In the meanwhile, the next one is taking shape in my head.

Happy New Year everyone.  We wish you the best in 2021.

Cheryl and Jim Coffee. 25 December 2020


6 December 2020: The 3D Printer has become an Essential Tool

It’s been an exciting couple of months with the Prusa Mini 3D printer that I acquired in mid-October.  Just this evening I installed my second roll of filament (382 meters, MatterHacker Pro Tough PLA).  I’ve had the printer running a lot…and I’m not printing little toys…I’m printing things that I need.  The quality of the 3D prints is much better than I had imagined that it would be…and I can print smaller than I thought I would be able to print.

The software (FreeCAD) was difficult for me to learn…but I’m now able to design many of the parts that I’m wanting to print.  Each time I design something I get a bit better with the software.

At this time I’m creating an automata that has a working title of “Auger Lift”.   The first image shows the crankshaft arms that have been 3D printed.  In the past, I’ve made these crankshaft arms from wood.  I work carefully however have never been able to create crankshaft arms that are as precise as these 3D printed crankshaft arms.  They are each exactly the same size.  What this means is that there are no binds.  The motion flows smoothly.  In the second image you see the 3 journal pillow block (also 3D printed).  I drop the crankshaft onto the pillow block, tighten the caps down, and rotate the crankshaft to find no binds what so ever.  It rotates in its bearings very smoothly and freely.  Tough to do when working at this small scale and working with wood.

And another beautiful thing is that I’ve now got the crankshaft arm design saved and available for reuse.  So yes, it did take time to work with the software to create the crankshaft arms, but I can now print on demand.

What I’m finding is that the 3D printer is allowing me to work at a higher level of quality.  For example, the third image shows the elliptical motion test stand.  The motion is generated by a gear motor and then transferred to the crankshaft through pinwheel gears.  There are no binds.  Had I made these same components from wood (and metal) my work would not have been as detailed and there would have been binds and irregularities in the drive train.

I know…it sounds like I’m just blathering on and on about the 3D printer.  Sorry, if that’s what you think.  However, if you are someone who has been considering acquiring a 3D printer I say to you that this little printer has become an essential tool in my workshop.  Ironically I am even now considering purchasing another one because I don’t want to find myself in a “down” situation.

And on the national/international front, COVID 19 continues to top the headlines, along with Trump continuing to attempt to tear down our Democracy.  I hope that the electorate and the Republican party have learned something from this experience, I also am trying to learn something.  There is obviously something that I still don’t understand.

Anyway…I live in California…and our Governor has just locked us down again.  Some folks are pissed about this…but I say that we’ve brought this lockdown onto ourselves.  I’ve been watching the numbers carefully.  It is obvious that we are getting sicker quicker.  Sicker quicker is not sustainable.  At some point, we will overwhelm the medical systems, and then where will we be?  So I’m staying home and working on automata.  I feel very fortunate to be able to do so.

Crankshaft for the Auger Lift. The crankshaft arms have been 3D printed. 4 December 2020.
Crankshaft Assembly: The 3 journal pillow block and the crankshaft arm have been 3D printed. 5 December 2020.
The elliptical motion for the Auger Lift is in a test stand being ‘run in’. The motor mount, pinwheel gears, pillow block, and crankshaft arms have all been 3D printed. 6 December 2020.
The Auger Lift crankshaft assembly in the test stand. 6 December 2020.


17 November 2020: A Bit of Relaxing

Well, the election is over and I can stop stressing.

However, there is a lesson for me to learn…I’m not sure what it is but I’ll keep trying to learn it.  My dilemma is that there are too many Trump supporters and I don’t understand why?  What am I missing?  How can people admire a liar, an isolationist, a divisive leader?  Mind you, I’m not saying that they are wrong.  There are too many of them.  They cannot all be wrong.  What bothers me is that I don’t understand.

That said, my stress level is reduced.  We all need to get along and move into the future.

The image is sort of an artful image of Pinwheel Gears that I’ve designed and created (with the assistance of my 3d printer).  It’s nice to have the time and opportunity to see the beauty in even small insignificant things.

In the studio, I’m working on the Proof of Concept for Auger Lift #1.  Today I’ve got it lifting and recycling marbles, with the power being flawlessly transmitted through the Pinwheel Gears.

Pinwheel Gears in the Sunshine. 15 November 2020
Auger Lift #1 Proof of Concept mechanism. 18 November 2020.


3 November 2020: It’s Election Day

It’s been a month and a half since my last post.  Lots has been going on here.

3D Printer:  In August 2020 I ordered a Prusa Mini.  It was back-ordered two months, finally arriving mid-October 2020.  I spent an afternoon setting it up, and then the next morning I did a couple of test prints.  Bottom line…it was worth the wait.  The Prusa Mini is going to be great for me.  Fast forward a couple of weeks:  I’ve printed more items for my automata, with the things that I’m most excited about being ears (see the image to the right) and tennis shoes and an armature for a head (for my biped).

For filament I am using MatterHackers Pro Tough PLA and am extremely satisfied with it.  My default setting at this writing, using a .25mm nozzle, is a .1mm layer height.  I’m extremely impressed with the detail.  When I bought this printer I was not expecting to be able to print things like the little ears.

The software that I’ve settled on and that I’m using to create useful parts is FreeCAD.

I’ve started my next automata.  It’s titled Auger Lift #1.  This automata features a long auger that lifts marbles up high.  The auger is powered by a biped that is pedaling.  I’ve largely finished creating the biped.  The printer has helped by printing ears and tennis shoes and an armature for the head.

I’m enjoying having the 3D printer in my studio.  It’s like (or better than) a reliable employee.  You tell it what you want it to do and it quietly does an excellent job.  The printer is going to help me raise the bar on the quality of my automata.

The Election:  When we wake up tomorrow there is a possibility that we will know who our next president will be.  I certainly hope that Trump does not win.  I think that at the core of a Great America are great values and principles.  I don’t see Trump leading with those qualities.  It’s disappointing.

A 3D printed Left Ear. November 1, 2020


September 17, 2020:  Three of Them

For years I’ve watched ‘sign-spinners’ stand on street corners spinning their signs.  Many times I’ve thought about developing a machine that they would sit on and pedal that would spin their signs for them.

In 2016 I started to focus on automata, and in 2017 I think it would be fair to say that I started obsessing on automata.  At some point in there, I caught the scent of thought of ‘product spinners’.  In April 2020 I started the first one…and in September 2020 I finished the third one.

The next week or so is going to be spent completing the videos and the marketing materials that I think I will need.  And then after that, I’m going to hit the streets to see if I can find rental customers for these little guys.

Here are links to the Project Sheets:

It will be interesting to see what the reaction from the marketplace will be.  Positive I hope.  I definitely will learn something…probably many things.

Remember to vote for anyone OTHER THAN Donald Trump this next election.  We need to get him gone.  He is not a leader.  And he lies.  It’s embarrassing. 

It’s interesting how it goes. In March 2020 there were none. And in September 2020 there are three. It’s been fun. 16 September 2020.


September 15, 2020: Creation is complete

This afternoon I completed Stair Stepping Bottle Spinner #1.  I am pleased with this little machine…it is and does exactly what I had envisioned.

At the last moment, I had to remove the belt drive and replace it with chain.  The belt drive stored energy near its couplings.  There is just a tiny amount of work being done to turn the bottle.  As a result, the ‘elastic’ stored energy in the belt was causing the bottle to spin ahead of itself.  I replaced the drive belt with a plastic chain and the spinning motion is now exactly in sync with the rest of the mechanism.

More images can be seen on the Project Sheet

This has been quite a year.  COVID-19, and now here in California there are wild fires.  Where we live there are no fires, however, there is haze and there are beautiful ‘fire sky’ sunsets.  Some of the other parts of the state that are burning are a terrible shame.  That said…fire is one of Mother Nature’s tools.  She is strong and she will use her tools.  Personally I think that it is possible to live in nature and not be in danger of having your home burn down.  Burrowing underground would be one way.  I think living underground is appealing and would not hesitate.  The opportunities, however, are rare.

On the automata front, it has been announced that Automata Magazine will cease production at the end of the year.  Too bad…I’ve really appreciated the magazine.  Apparently there is a possibility that someone will step up and take over from Marc.  I hope so.

Again, I urge a vote for anyone other than Donald Trump.  He is not good for this nation.



Creation of Stair Stepping Bottle Spinner #1 is completed. 15 September 2020.

September 2, 2020, Wet Paint

Stair Stepping Bottle Spinner #1 has racked up about 15 hours of runtime on its clock and has subsequently been disassembled and is being painted.  The painting process is very important and it takes time.  And then everything needs to dry.  I find the drying time part of the process to be frustrating.  That said…the drying time is extremely important.

I’ve never been political in my business communications until now (this election cycle).  One of the quotations that I respect says “A Democracy is not a spectator sport”.  I don’t want to be a silent spectator right now…this coming election is very important.

I want to also point out that I’ve been a registered Republican for my entire life.

I am disappointed with the process.  I’m disappointed that the Republican Party cannot offer up someone more qualified than Donald Trump.  It would seem to me that we would want potential candidates on a “track” to the White House.  Being trained and groomed.  And I would expect the Republican Party to put forth a forward-reaching platform.

Instead what we’ve got is a gross individual, one with no sound principles, who is not a leader, continuing to lie to us, and continuing to isolate us from the rest of the world.  He is certainly unacceptable to me…as I hope he is unacceptable to the majority of the electoral college.

Donald Trump does not represent the value system that I want leading this country.  Please vote this coming election.  Please vote for anyone other than Donald Trump.

Stair Stepping Bottle Spinner #1 has been disassembled and is being painted. 2 September 2020



August 15, 2020: Stair Stepping Bottle Spinner Modules are being completed.

It’s been three weeks since my last post…too long.  I’ll try to be more consistent with 1-2 week updates.

I’m working on Stair Stepping Bottle Spinner #1.  This will make a total of three product spinning automata.  When this 3rd one is completed I’m going to take the three of them out and try to find a home for at least one of them.  I hope that this “automata rental” program will work.  It seems reasonable to me.  I know that when I have my automata with me when I’m playing my street organ in public that people are very attracted to them.

I’m learning how to build in a ‘modular’ fashion.  Major components that fit together to make a whole.  Part of the process is creating in a manner that does not look modular.  I don’t want someone looking at the automata to see ‘modules’.  I want them to see the whole thing.

We are having a high heat weekend here in the San Diego area.  I’m glad that I spent 20 years in Las Vegas.  Those 20 years let me think that this San Diego heat spell is very tolerable.

On the national front, it’s looking more likely (to me) that we will have a different President next term.  I’m so glad.  Our present President is causing me a lot of angst.  I don’t like him representing our country.  It will be nice to see him go.

The Stair Stepper Bottle Spinner modules are being completed. Clockwise from left: The Electrics module (it’s missing the hour meter), the drive frame, the base, the biped, and the ratchet assembly. August 15, 2020.


21 July 2020: Heads Up!

Heads have been difficult for me.  I’ve tried creating heads several different ways and am finally settling on Basswood armatures and Sculpey clay medium.  In the image you see: a) a 2″ long piece of 1″ X 1″ Basswood.  b) The armature that has been carved.  This armature sets the proportions.  c and d) completed heads.  These have been baked and are ready for installation and paint.  After I have the Sculpey head the way that I want it I bake it for 15 minutes at 275 degrees.  And if I want to do more I can make the changes and re-bake.  

In the past, I have whittled faces but I find that I do not have the control over the detail that I would like.  So I have used a two-part product called Apoxy.  Apoxy works pretty well…it handles detail and it’s very strong…however it starts to harden right after it has been mixed.  Working time is 2-4 hours.  I find the working time a bit frustrating so am now working with Sculpey.  In the image, the biped that is painted does have an Apoxy head.

I made my own whittling knife out of a Gerber hunting knife that I had laying around.  I worked the metal for a long time getting the right shape…and then I’ve been stropping it for months.  Finally, it’s (perhaps) sharper than a razor and a pleasure to use (and dangerous).

On the national political front: I have no comment this week.  You’ve heard it…”if you cannot say something nice don’t say it at all”.  I just sad about it all.

A mini production line for heads. Basswood is the armature and Sculpey is the media.
21 July 2020